This is a guest blog from Rajeev Sharma, founder of Awrizon, it was originally published here.
Imagine, what would have happened if Uber had concluded that innovation meant building more comfortable taxis for commuters. Good for us they didn’t do that, instead, picked a different insight. They analysed the problems people went through while booking cabs and after a lot of brainstorming, they solved that and built a brand out of it!
Several times, we wonder, if there can be a framework to help small businesses, growing brands, and startups with brand building. Such that, they can easily market in this complex digital world and yet continue to focus on all the other things that matter? If you are one of them you will agree that there are enough things to distract you. There will be occasions when you will feel lost, a bit less confident and feel that the market is evolving faster than you can manage. You are convinced that your startup or idea has the potential, but what seems like a big question is what to do with it.
It’s going to be an important question since building a brand and creating a successful value proposition needs a committed approach. Today, success is all about adapting to change – and the change is rapid.
These are the four areas to consider as you begin the journey:
What’s the problem (amongst your likely audience) that you are trying to resolve?
What’s the solution you have thought of and what is your product or service promising to do?
Who exactly are your consumers, what do they do/read, how do they spend their time? What do you want them to do or feel as a result of your product or service?
What are your brand’s values? How does it behave, communicate, create experiences and deliver on the promise it makes?
Analyse the problem
While getting to this, the best way is to look deep into the consumer’s mind. That could be done by talking to them, looking at their conversations, carrying out surveys or spending time with them, even living with them. Lego did exactly that.
After losing market share and realising that this new ‘instant gratification’ generation may not have the patience with Lego. They visited an 11 yr old German boy’s house – a Lego consumer who proudly pointed out to his worn-out sneaker shoes as the item which made him the best skateboarder amongst his peers. The Lego team realised it was this social currency (among peers), that was most important to this boy within the skills he chose, whatever that skill might be (in this case skateboarding).
You know the areas that interest you. Look for information and make a list of consumers’ reactions, insights and other valuable information that you can gather. Now imagine, the consumer’s journey towards the purchase, the steps he/she would take to move towards completion of their action. Think of all the steps, multiple touch points and offline-online interactions they have in the category you are building your product or service in.
The trick here is to find areas where the consumer can have a frictionless experience. Friction is the opposite of consumer experience. Make a list of all the possible ‘tension’ or ‘friction’ spots. Consumers can’t express what they need so the best way would be to watch them. Experts call it Frictionless Customer Experience (FCX). A digital design agency is creating a cafe on anticipatory design philosophy. The Baristas get to know the customer is approaching even before he/she has reached (through an iWatch, for instance), and start preparing their favourite drink and keep it ready. They call this philosophy – ‘flow not friction’.
Offer a unique solution
How do you create a unique offering? Something that is unlike what others are offering, something unique. A quick thumb rule which I have seen a few great brands following are:
Benefit – What’s special about what you are doing for the consumer?
Outcome – What is it going to result in, eventually?
Story – What is your unique narrative, your storytelling?
Strengths – What makes you uniquely strong?
Remember it as the BOSS philosophy.
You will narrow down the audience, but at this stage, you should continue to think of the values your brand is adding to their lives. What’s special about what you are doing? Look at other competitors in your category and find some uniquenesses you want your brand to display.
If your brand can deliver something more than what your consumers are expecting you have a winning proposition at hand. It can be a new concept or something incremental to an existing one, or even a different way of using an existing product or service. When I conduct corporate workshops, one of the activities we do is to ideate and create a radically new product out of a mashup of 2 or 3 existing products or services keeping the consumer’s growing needs in mind.
Nike has been a great example since the brand got created in 1971. Along with its symbol the Swoosh, it has focussed on innovation and used new technologies effectively. Their vision has continued to remain the same – ‘to connect with athletes to aspire and enable them to do better’ and always stayed ahead fulfilling their consumer’s new and unmet needs.
Identify your audience
There is a trick here. It’s definitely important to understand your audience, but in today’s time, you need to do more work. I meet clients, who say ‘I am thinking of a new content channel which will provide intelligent content to children’ or ‘I am a healthcare brand and I want to make the process of booking appointments with a healthcare practitioner super easy’. There are several great ideas and entrepreneurs out there. It’s important to microscopically observe your vast audience and build personas. Each will have a distinct need and will need a different approach and strategy.
The point here is not to get trapped in the traditional – Age, SEC classification. Instead, first think of people around you, teachers, gym co-members, colleagues, neighbours, etc. Are there people that are most likely your target audience? If yes, wonderful! They are actually your target group. Define them. You will get different personas.
Unless you know your audience, you will fail to effectively talk to them. Get into a room and ask what drives them, what are their favourite things, where do they hang out, what are they likely to do online and what can be offered to them that can add value to their lives? What is their unique ‘unmet’ need that you could possibly fulfill? Always remember consumers only have an existing reference to make. They cannot predict how they will respond to a new concept, or articulate a new need.
We know, Snapchat created a radical shift in video creation with vertical videos. They realised, consumers were not behaving normally when it came to creating videos (they held the phone vertically while talking or chatting but changed the orientation when shooting videos). Snapchat just made people record their videos in the easiest, natural way and with over 10 million vertical videos each day on Snapchat, we know it was a great shift.
Build a brand essence
What is the essence of the brand that you want to build? Its values will manifest in the way your brand behaves, talks and communicates with your audience. You could be a healthcare brand or a book-reading app or a fitness product. You need to discover the essence of your brand.
Ask yourself, what are the adjectives your brand is most likely to be associated with? Think of things important to you, close to your heart. These possibilities are the values you want your brand to be associated with too. Go deep, it will help you create a personality. You could want to be bold and edgy or radical and rebellious. Don’t try to be like others. Be something new, unique, something that truly resonates with what you intend to be. Defining your brand as a person is the best outcome.
You should look at your competitors as differentiating yourself is the key to success. Be true and authentic and it’s okay to defy set rules. See Tinder, for instance, it says online dating should be as casual as hanging out at a bar and worked on this theme. In fact, MIT Media Lab recently came up with a prize for those who are shaking up the status quo or breaking the rules called the “New Disobedience Award”.
Scribbling all of this down on a whiteboard with inputs from all stakeholders and then segregating those will be great. At the end, you should have a sense of the values you want your brand to be associated with, its personality and the tone. Eventually, this will also become a great brief for your designer to come up with the visual language, designs and the logo (if it’s not already created).
While defining the vision, discuss what your brand wants to be and its reason to exist. Arrive at one statement – the big vision that will get etched in stone, something that you will eventually want to be, several years from today. When P&G created beinggirl.com it was not to talk product but to “illuminate” the TG’s world (the 11-14 yr old girls age segment to help them out in embarrassing moments, hygiene related issues etc.).
Storytelling is the best way to bond with your audiences. Find those unique aspects of your consumers’ lives and build your content around these micro-moments and their life experiences. Let there be emotions because that’s what people associate with. Good stories will lead to visibility and reach. With good visibility, your brand will develop shareability.
Research shows that our basic qualities – belonging, expression, self-discovery, emotions, freedom – when used in storytelling, get the best consumer connect. Remember, when Nike got Nancy to run again – a runner who previously came 6284th at the Boston marathon and lost her job and confidence – gave her running shoes and all the motivation she needed. She was no less a champion than the top runner. This is a story that stays true to Nike’s brand essence, a brand that doesn’t just sell footwear but stories of a personal quest for excellence.
Storytelling comes in all forms and shapes – experiences related to customer care, or the actual product and packaging, or even in-store experiences. How many times have we loved the Starbucks experience? They say a Starbucks store is in third place in the lives of its people. A quiet moment to gather your thoughts, a small escape. Starbucks staff smiles at you, and that alone makes it a place that feels like a breath of fresh air.
This is why you should never forget the people you hire, your employees. Successful brands have this great desire to promote a culture that resonates with their brand. Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer gives a reverse reward for employees if they want to quit. It pays them money to quit if they think they aren’t fitting in.
Okay, so we are done for now.
All of this needs to stay consistent. At this stage, you will have defined your brand’s reason to exist and values. The value of your brand will get built over time, as your loyal customers grow and bond with it. The challenge is to stay on track and continue to strive to build loyalty.
So go ahead and rule the world. Talk to partners who can now show you how to best use Digital, which channels to choose, what KPI’s to keep and develop smart and impactful messaging. Keep up the enthusiasm, courage, hunger, and willingness to adapt to unknown situations and you will do wonders!